Bags containing African migrants
Body bags containing African migrants, who drowned trying to reach Italian shores (Reuters)

A prominent human rights activist claims three Eritrean refugees have died and many more have been injured at refugee camps in northern Ethiopia after a memorial vigil dedicated to the victims of the Lampedusa boat sinking turned violent.

Meron Estefanos, also a radio presenter in Sweden for Radio Erena, exclusively told IBTimes UK that a riot erupted in the Mai Ayni refugee camp after Eritrean refugees started expressing their frustration at authorities.

Police opened fire to disperse the riot and four children were wounded as a result. The unrest spread to other refugee camps such as the Adi Harish and three people were killed.

"Refugees, who contacted Eritrean independent Radio Erena, disclosed that the initial objective of the gatherings was to remember those who perished in the Lampedusa disaster, but quickly turned into a protest over what refugees considered corruption in the refugee resettlement process as well as issues over camp security," Estefanos said.

A spokesperson at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) confirmed to IBTimes UK that riots took place in the refugee camps but was unable to confirm the fatalities, adding that the situation was calming down.

Over 65,000 Eritrean refugees live in Ethiopia, spread across four refugee camps.

"The refugees believe that many of those who are making the perilous journey via Libya and the Sahara Desert do so because the resettlement program in Ethiopian refugee camps is corrupt with many Ethiopians being given bogus refugee statuses that qualify them for resettlement opportunities and often they are prioritised over genuine refugees," Estefanos said.

Refugees stressed that the protest was mainly peaceful but other reports say that angry migrants started throwing stones at local authorities.

The UNHCR estimates that up to 3,000 refugees escape from Eritrea every month and the majority of those are currently in refugee camps in Sudan and Ethiopia.

Around 500 people were aboard the refugee boat when it capsized and sank half a mile from Lampedusa. So far 211 people have been confirmed dead, but it is feared that at least 300 people have perished.

The UNHCR reported that 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of 2013. The majority of them, following a well-worn path from northern Africa and the Middle East, continue their journey to northern Italy, Germany, France or the UK.

After leaving Eritrea for Sudan and south Egypt, Eritrean migrants travel to Libya where the majority are usually arrested.